Technical notes on my book

I wrote Fictions of Autonomy using what is, for humanists, a rather unusual collection of software. I would like to acknowledge the extraordinary work that went into creating the software I used. Consider this an e-colophon and an argument: humanists should think about using these remarkable tools or similar ones. They work well with humanistic text. I also discuss document-preparation software on my page devoted to humanistic TeX.

The book was written in the LaTeX markup language using various versions of the vim text editor (mostly MacVim). I kept all my notes in LaTeX files and tracked them, along with the manuscript files themselves (from dissertation to book!) in a subversion repository.

I kept my working bibliography in a single, enormous BibTeX file, which I maintained at first by hand and subsequently with BibDesk. The plain-text form of the .bib file meant it was also congenial for my version-control setup. The extraordinary biblatex and biblatex-chicago packages, in conjunction with the biber database-processing engine, made it possible for me to generate citations automatically.

My own “draft” PDFs were produced using the XeLaTeX engine in MacTeX. XeLaTeX has direct Unicode and OpenType font support. I used the babel package to support my multilingual text (English, French, German).

I used GNU Make to manage the task of doing multiple xelatex and biber runs.

I also gathered some of my draft bibliographic information using Zotero and the zot2bib Mac Firefox extension. Information from Zotero always needs some hand-correcting (and online catalogs always need to be checked).

In order to share work with my editors, I had to produce a Word version of my book. For this task I used tex4ht’s ability to convert LaTeX (biblatex and all) to OpenOffice form. I then used NeoOffice and some Perl scripts to tweak the resulting .odt file and NeoOffice to convert it to .docx format.

I wrote my index in plain text and sorted it with a bare-bones Perl script. Perl’s Unicode support was invaluable. I used pandoc to convert the sorted index to OpenOffice format, and NeoOffice to polish the index and convert it into the Word format required by the production facility.

The book is, by the way, set in Adobe’s Minion Pro. This is the OpenType version of the digital typeface Minion, which was designed (according to Robert Bringhurst’s Elements of Typographic Style) by Robert Slimbach in California in 1989.